The Secret of Expressing Company Culture


A phrase made famous by Mark Fields, President at Ford is one of many soundbites we received when Yakub Zolynski, Head of Talent at Secret Escapes spoke about culture through his work at Lost My Name (now Wonderbly) and Secret Escapes.

Yakub has a background in recruitment and was given the first full-throttle experience of culture at Lost My Name (now Wonderbly), an award-winning technology and publishing business. After 18 months Yakub was head-hunted into the Head of Talent role at Secret Escapes, a British travel technology company which was catapulted into the mainstream by a series of wonderful TV adverts.

"Tell me when you first really experienced culture in the workplace?"

"As Head of Talent at Lost My Name, I saw the powerful culture of the startup at work, where the culture was built around the vision of the founder. This also led me to quickly realise that the company was not utilising culture in the best way."

"That is interesting. So what about the culture was not being leveraged?"

"Yes, let me clarify. We had a great culture but it was not embedded into the recruitment process. Candidates were given the traditional approach of being shuffled into an interview room and escorted straight back out once finished. Along the way, the candidates saw the fantastic office space, great vibe and awesome atmosphere."

"So, to give this some context it must have felt like a visit to a studio recording of your favourite artist, but being asked to leave just before they started singing, knowing that the only way to see them sing was by joining in!

Can you explain how you changed this?"

"So I wanted to bring the company culture to the candidates, we amended the recruitment process, and all final stage candidates were now invited to the 'all-hands' meetings on Friday evenings. Great music, free-flowing beers (and even tequila) but more importantly a celebration of successes and recognition of failures from all the teams in the company over the past week.

We wanted the candidates to live the culture but also get full transparency around the serious matters of the business. The results of this tweak to the process meant a 100% offer to acceptance ratio. Proof that it is not enough to only talk about culture, as most companies do, but for the candidates to experience the culture.

This became a huge selling point for Lost My Name. The change in the process was so successful that counter offers of 25% more by other firms were not enough to lure candidates away from the culture-led company. This meant money was saved by not having to push counter offers to candidates and the time to hire improved! If there was any excuse to drink more tequila during Friday meetings, I think we found it!

I am not teaching you to suck eggs. There is nothing new or bold just a brilliant opportunity to express culture."

"Where else would you express company culture in the recruitment process."

"There are so many touch points! There is the job specification, the communication with candidates, the interview style. All opportunities to express culture. Let me give you an example with job specifications for developers. The job specification should mention the challenge the developer would be fixing or creating and also the value they would be adding to the team. The value added by coding is a bonus for the team. You can produce a job specification that mentions you want someone in to write code but that will not attract the best talent. It sounds simple but go do a cursory search of job boards for developers and it will show that the latter job descriptions are the norm. This was not for us at Secret Escapes."

"Yakub there is a lot of talk about touch points. How do you like to see that throughout the candidate journey?"

This is all about delighting or infuriating (cue awkward giggles) the candidate. The delight we will get back to, but many of us can relate to the infuriate. Inadequate feedback, lengthy hiring times, slow admin processing. We all know an infuriating recruitment process. What the team has done at Secret Escapes is an attempt to give a delight in the candidate journey by looking at all the different interactions with a candidate.

There are many moments for consumers that book holidays that will give them a fantastic happy feeling. For some, it is when they arrive at the beautiful destination, for others it is when they book and pay, and for others, the warm fuzzy feeling comes when they receive a boarding pass. This gave a light bulb moment. Secret Escapes took this small concept and introduced it into the recruitment process.

Now every time a candidate is invited for an interview, they are emailed a passport style boarding pass. Gimmicky of course, but great for positive branding and culture. Candidates tell us that they are filled with that warm feeling and come interview time it is an icebreaker to discuss. So not only is culture shown in the job specification and the final round interview but also that bit in between!"

Yakub still has a lot of changes he wants to consider and make to processes, but he seems to be ahead of coporate talent leaders who are still championing the traditional recruitment process. For the time being though, he like all of us is frantically trying to book a last minute holiday. We will tell him we know a good website!

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POP HR is a HR tech start up. Simplifying HR admin with our HR platform and teaming up with some of the most innovative and disruptive brands to bring a series of talent popup events to help create the future with people.

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